It’s crunch day – yes, really this time – for Theresa May. After spending the evening in one-on-one meetings with a select few cabinet ministers, this afternoon the Prime Minister will chair a special cabinet meeting – where she will seek approval for her proposed deal. The devil will be in the detail – but for some the detail is neither here nor there with the European Research Group quick to see red ahead of reading the document. Last night, Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested on Newsnight that he could be forced to withdraw his support for the Prime Minister.
Not helping matters is a Brussels leak that makes its ways into the Times and FT. Brussels negotiator Sabine Weyand has told EU ambassadors that the ‘temporary’ backstop may not be so temporary. She has suggested the temporary customs union which forms the basis of the UK-wide backstop will form the basis for the long-term – permanent – relationship.
In short, Brussels will not want the UK to loosen its trading relationship any further. In comments that will antagonise Brexiteers, Weyand boasted to Brussels that the ‘level playing field’ clauses the UK would sign up to in the backstop cede power to Brussels and puts the EU ‘in the best negotiation position for the future relationship’:
‘This requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship. They [Britain] must align their rules, but the EU will retain all the controls. They apply the same rules. U.K. wants a lot more from future relationship, so EU retains its leverage.’
Given that No 10’s repeated message on the troubled backstop agreement is that it’s a last resort that would not come into effect and even if it did it would only be for a very short time, this leak appears to severely undermine May’s argument. We are in for a rocky few days.